The philosophical concept of eternal recurrence is a complex one. Friedrich Nietzsche used it to put forward an interesting hypothesis about the existential plight of human beings.
His aim was to capture the idea that we could be forever locked into a fatalistic cycle of continually recurring events. There are times when life comes close to feeling like that; most of the time British politics feels exactly like that – the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling might be able to shed some light on that.
But first Nietzsche, who invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape.
In Nietzsche’s fatalistic scenario, it would take an exceptional person to recognise that this is what human existence was like. Rather than fall into a state of despair, his superior strength of mind would enable him to embrace eternal recurrence and learn to love his fate.
We don’t need to be fatalists nowadays to appreciate why eternal recurrence might actually seem like a comforting idea to many people. Not necessarily in a metaphysical sense, but in an everyday sense that captures the belief that our core patterns of social, political and economic exchange ought to be reliable, predictable and guaranteed to be in place again tomorrow.
It would be entirely natural to feel a sense of dread when trying to imagine what it would be like if these predictable patterns were suddenly disrupted for good. And in the event that there were insufficient detail available to understand exactly how that disruption would affect our lives, our fears would start to fall quite neatly into the gaps opened up by our unconstrained imaginings.
This is how Scottish independence is depicted in some quarters, with a great deal being made about the horrible uncertainty that would follow. Alistair Darling invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to buy a one-way ticket to an uncertain destination. And despite his disastrous spell in charge of the United Kingdom’s bank balance, he still tries hard to spook us about the turbulent and troubled world we would be inviting into our lives if we voted against the absolute certainty of the union.
But rather than run away from it, it is actually worth remembering there is an important place for uncertainty in our lives: exceptional outcomes are often achieved when a major change comes along to shock us out of our old routines.
The psychological discomfort that accompanies major change, and the feeling of uncertainty it creates, can be the catalyst for unexpected growth, whether for an individual previously afraid to deviate from an established routine, or for a nation hitherto not even permitted that basic right.
Unlike the set up in Nietzsche’s fatalistic landscape, and despite Darling’s apocalyptic warnings, it is perfectly possible, and highly desirable, that the ordinary man in the street should disrupt the eternally recurring political manoeuvres that continually conspire to have a detrimental effect on Scottish society.
Of course, and with Thatcherism to one side, it is not that these manoeuvres were purposely designed to damage Scotland, or other parts of the United Kingdom for that matter; far from it. It is rather that the absolute supremacy of Westminster, and the London centric policies its politicians are slave to, means that we will be unable to maximise the potential of our natural resources for the benefit of our people for as long as we remain locked into this rigid union.
There is something to be said for embracing uncertainty, particularly when the certainty we are being urged to stick with is for the benefit of a union that has gone so far down a one way track that it can do nothing else now, other than feed its powerful and insatiable economic centre, whilst telling the story that is in the best interest of our country that we are set up this way.
The underlying reality is as rock solid and certain as you could ever imagine it to be; in this respect, Darling is right on the money (for once).
It is a reality in which Scotland’s democratic deficit is guaranteed for evermore; it is a reality in which we know that Scotland’s position on social equality and welfare will never be driven by the people of Scotland but by a Government in Westminster with entirely different priorities and allegiances; it is a reality in which we can be assured that Scotland’s true wealth will never be used for the benefit of the people of Scotland, but to help pay for colossal infrastructure projects with no benefit to Scotland, support illegal wars we did not agree to, and host weapons of mass destruction we neither need, nor want.
Now, I am no fatalist. Yet I feel more inclined to heed the words of Nietzsche over Darling: how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape…
As far as I concerned, this is the most exciting year in Scotland’s history.
Let’s hope 2014 is an exceptional one.